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Justin Trevino makes a scene

By Andy Turner, December 2002

Justin Trevino has been living the honky tonk life since he's been able to chew his own food. He couldn't resist the music he heard rolling out of the jukebox by people like Faron Young and Ray Price.

"My parents never believed in hiring a babysitter," says the 29-year-old Texan whose fourth album, "The Scene of the Crying," was recently released on Lone Star Records. "They always took me. My earliest memory of being in the beer joints is probably five years old. I think I was going into them before that. My thing, of course, being the huge brat that I was, was that I always wanted to play the jukebox."

Trevino, blind since birth, says no one really worried about such a young boy being in a bar.

"In my case, it probably had as much to do with not being able to see. When I was in those places, I was with my dad at all times. I wasn't up running around. That might have been a little bit different. I was the kind to stay put, drink my soda water and talk to whoever wanted to talk - especially if they wanted to talk about country music. The old-timers, they were kind of amazed that a kid was that interested in old country music."

One of those old timers once asked him what he was favorite song was. He didn't hesitate.

"I said, 'Hello Walls' by Faron Young," Trevino says.

"He put $5 in the jukebox and played 'Hello Walls' however many times $5 will play it, a whole bunch of times. It was like two songs for a quarter at that time, so about 40 times, I guess."

Right away, however, Trevino says he knew he wanted to be more than a fan. He had to be a part of the music that he couldn't get out of his head.

"I wanted to be a singing cowboy," he says, "not a singing cowboy like Gene Autry or Roy Rogers. I wanted to be a guy who played guitar and sang country songs."

He started taking guitar lessons at age seven and began singing at about the same time. Three years later, he could play most any country song he wanted to. Trevino first played for money at age 13 at the Longhorn BBQ and Bar in Austin.

"I used to play there on Saturday nights for tips," he explains. "Me and my guitar and a drum machine."

Not that he's always had the stunning tenor that's so wonderfully evident on "The Scene of the Crying." He's listened to old tapes of him singing that make him cringe.

"I sound like a little kid, but that's not what bothered me," he says. "It's the fact that I've seen little kids who can sing in tune, and buddy, I was not singing in tune. We had a couple of those cassette tapes, and I got rid of them. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I did."

About the time he was playing the Longhorn, Trevino started to figure out singers he could possibly pattern himself after.

"I grew up on Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb, but I don't sing like those guys," he says. "For one thing, I don't have that voice. I don't have that deep voice. I really fell in love with the real vocalists. I started paying attention to Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Johnny Bush, Darrell McCall. I started listening to those guys, and it was about that time that the Texas shuffle really got hold of me. It got to the point where I was just really trying to get the technique and voice control and also really developing my range."

Trevino released his first record, "Texas Honky-Tonk," on his own label, Nightmare Records, in 1998. "Loud Music and Strong Wine," recorded with members of Don Walser's Pure Texas Band and Johnny Bush's Bandoleros and legendary steel guitar Jimmy Day, followed in 2000.

Bush acted as co-producer of last year's "Travelin' Singin' Man." Trevino has served as bassist for Bush's band and has also worked with Walser and Cornell Hurd, whose wife, Debra, plays piano on "The Scene of the Crying."

The new album, Trevino's second for Austin-based Lone Star Records, contains a few originals by Trevino and his pickers, but mainly focuses on covers of classics and more obscure songs.

Trevino makes good on his promise to always include a song by his namesake, Justin Tubb, on his albums with a rendition of "You'll Never Get a Better Chance." He met Tubb in 1995, and the two quickly became friends. Tubb used Trevino in his band as a bassist and harmony vocalist when he appeared in Texas over the next few years until Tubb's death of a stomach aneurysm in 1998.

"It's something I'd probably be doing even if he were alive," Trevino says. "But the fact that was lost him prematurely makes it all the more special...He wrote so many good songs. I could do this from now on and forever and never run out of good material."

He duets with heroes Wanda Jackson and Jimmy C. Newman on the album.

Trevino and Jackson recorded "Crying Time" and "What Have We Done" with the latter making it onto the record. He had previously played with Jackson when the rockabilly queen appeared at the Llano Opry in the Texas Hill Country.

"She was delightful," he says. "It's hard to find words. She's great. She gets on stage and just knocks them out."

Newman was a favorite of Trevino's even before the Louisiana native added the 'C' for Cajun.

"He made some of my favorite country records back in the '50s before he had the C. He was making records as Jimmy Newman," Trevino says. "Just great traditional country songs...Real hardcore country ballads." Trevino and Newman pair up for "Daydreaming," turning it into a shuffle. The duo also recorded "Blue Darling," which should be released along with "Crying Time" on a future project, Trevino says.

Having the chance to work with country legends like Jackson, Newman and others makes it worth it even if he never gets famous, something Trevino says he long ago accepted he never will be.

"There is a market for what I do," he says. "I know that people who love this kind of music, most of them are aware of me by now, and they're buying my records."

"I know that every record I put out, I can sell records. But I know what I do, and the kind of music that I love and the kind of music I'm trying to preserve will never be mainstream again. Society has changed, and it's the time that we live in. But one thing that keeps me excited about making records is the opportunity to work with some of my heroes, people I've looked up to my whole life."